EIGHT MINUTES TO SAVE A LIFE
By Edie Johnson
Council For Regional Emergency Services Will Determine Need
New Windsor – At a public hearing attorney Tim Hannigan chaired a presentation by the New Windsor Ambulance Corps, which is seeking authority to expand their services to be the official first responders to cover emergencies in the Town of Cornwall and Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson. New Windsor Chief Michael Bigg presented a stack of statistics showing that they are already in effect covering the area successfully. They currently respond to approximately 5,000 calls per year, with an average response time of 7 to 8 minutes. The problem, he said is that currently EMSTAR is the official provider in the area, but since there are not enough emergencies to keep a full-time Mobile Life vehicle there, they cannot respond as quickly as New Windsor. Blooming Grove is listed as the next alternative provider. Meanwhile the New Windsor team, which is listed as a mutual assist team loses a critical 2 to 3 minutes of response time. When, such as the case this past Sunday night, a critical incident happens with a resident who is non-responsive, those 2 to 3 minutes can mean the difference between life and death. While New Windsor’s typical response time to Cornwall is 7 to 8 minutes, Chief Bigg lives in Cornwall and has often been able to arrive in 2 to 3 minutes. Cornwall COVAC Chief and 40-year EMT Jack Boyle said that the New Windsor paramedic team’s ability to do rapid sequential intubation had saved numerous lives. He added that numerous residents had complained about Mobil Life’s aggressive billing policies, that at times had resulted on liens placed on homes of elderly persons, and in one case an elderly woman attempting to live on cat food. The bills following services related to his own necessary leg amputation had resulted in years of aggressive collection calls. Again remarking on the proficiency level of New Windsor paramedics, he remarked “I don’t need 2 babysitters in the back of a truck.”
Just last year the New Windsor Ambulance Corps was voted best the 2017 EMS Agency of the Year among 250. Bigg attributes their success to well-trained volunteers, extraordinarily skilled paramedics and a cache of the very best equipment available.
But representatives from the other potential providers disagreed. EMSTAR’s representative said that if there were any problems, they could certainly fix them by other means, and that allowing a mutual assist group to become the primary responder would set a bad precedent. Mobile Life said that with an office in the City of Newburgh their time would be within a minute of New Windsor’s time. Further, they said the change would be procedurally incorrect, since they hold commercial certification and made the argument that “Mutual aid agreements are not intended to substitute for services with operating authority”. But Bigg responded that the argument about commercial certification had been used in the past, along with a cease and desist order, to stop New Windsor from covering Cornwall. But the case had been thrown out in court. He added that Mobile Life had been listed twice before as Cornwall’s first respond team, and both times they had been asked to leave. Bigg and other first responders made the case over and over that there are plenty of other towns nearby that are in dire need of added commercial ambulance service, and that Mobile Life would do better to help those towns. Will Jeffries, CEO of Mobile Life defended his workers saying that they had not been to calls in Cornwall as of late simply because they had not been called. The other teams responded that they were not questioning the ability or dedication of the Mobile Life teams, only that they could be of much better service in towns that are not being served well already. Orange County Emergency Services Commissioner Brendan Casey backed up Michael Bigg, saying that the county’s official stance is that it is up to each town to determine how they could be best served. Casey said that while response times in the New Windsor area are 7 to 8 minutes, there are areas in Wallkill, Shawangunk, Highland, and Beacon that have response times up to 20-30 minutes. While they have started a task force to improve the situation, policy states that when an emergency occurs, the preferred group to respond is whomever can get there the quickest and provide the most help. Bigg pointed out again that areas north of Newburgh are underserved and could use Mobile Life’s assist. “If New Windsor staff has to go to Modena, that’s a problem.” Casey allowed that there is a regional problem, that as Orange County grows there are simply not enough emergency providers, especially since volunteer numbers are dropping. Bigg as well as New Windsor’s Chief of Staff Colin Schmitt said that numerous meetings had been held with Cornwall officials, and they voted to make the change. He said that both he and New Windsor Supervisor George Green, along with the EMS team will be glad to help out Cornwall.
One by one, each speaker gave their view that Cornwall does indeed need the New Windsor help, and many gave instances where their quick response and high caliber of paramedics had likely saved lives.
When asked if additional staffing would be needed for the New Windsor team to be official Cornwall responders, Bigg said “We have added several new staff members recently, but it’s not really an issue. We’re here to do what is right. Cornwall calls have increased, especially since the St. Luke’s Cornwall Campus Emergency Center closed. We have 80 active volunteers and have not missed a single call this year. We are already doing the work, we just want to make it official”. He added that it is certainly not about looking for additional work, “It’s all about providing the very best patient care and saving lives.”
Caption: Chief Michael Bigg of the New Windsor Ambulance Corps makes the case to officially expand their service to the Town of Cornwall and Village of Cornwall-On-Hudson. (Photo by Edie Johnson)